Black and white drawing entitled "Trial of Robert Emmet. Emmet replying to the verdict of high treason, Sept. 19, 1803"

The story of our namesake

WHO IS ROBERT EMMET?

REVOLUTIONARY LEADER

The name Robert Emmet is well known in Irish history, memorialized around the world in story and song. Born in 1778, the young Robert Emmet became heavily involved in the cause of Irish independence as a student at Trinity College, Dublin. Following the failed 1798 rebellion spearheaded by the Society of United Irishmen, a group seeking to replace British rule with a representative government, Emmet worked to rebuild the Society and renew its pursuit of an independent Irish republic.

After several years seeking French military support for the cause, Emmet lead plans for a new rebellion by sourcing and strategically storing weapons throughout Dublin and rousing allies to take up arms when the time arose. On July 23, 1803, forced by circumstances to strike earlier than planned, Emmet led a small band of rebels toward Dublin Castle with the aim of capturing it and the government officials within.

Portrait of Robert Emmet
Marble tablet with black text along pavement. The text reads "In the roadway opposite this tablet Robert Emmet died in the cause of Irish freedom 20th September 1803. Erected by the Thomas Moore Society 1953"

A tablet along Thomas Street in Dublin denotes the location of Robert Emmet's execution.

Unfortunately for Emmet, the rebels soon proved ill prepared for insurrection. In an effort to prevent unnecessary violence, Emmet attempted to disband the crowd, eventually leading just over a dozen individuals in retreat. Those who pressed on, however, were restless. After Emmet left the scene, the remaining rebels came upon a high-ranking government official, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland Viscount Kilwarden, and killed him. This action drew the attention of authorities, who indicted Emmet for and his role in the event that might otherwise have ended quietly and been lost to history.

 

After living in hiding for a month, Robert Emmet was discovered and taken into custody on August 25. He was subsequently tried for treason, found guilty, and executed in Dublin on September 20, 1803.

 

Despite his doomed rebellion, Emmet inspired generations of Irish freedom fighters. Ascribed the mantle of revolutionary hero, he is perhaps best known for the famous words spoken following his conviction: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

CULTURAL LEGACY

For centuries, hurling has served as a symbol of Irish cultural identity, especially in the face of foreign rule. Its role in Ireland’s long pursuit for independence was no less significant in Robert Emmet’s time. In fact, hurling was used by Emmet’s rebel forces as a guise for battle training.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that numerous Gaelic sports clubs, both in Ireland and around the world, carry the name Robert Emmet. In addition to his legacy in Ireland, he is remembered in various forms around the United States, including as the namesake of Emmet County in northwestern Iowa, sitting just over Minnesota's southern border.